After working as a professional architect for more than a decade-and-a-half, Lorena Toffer found a calling in teaching.
She’s a first-year educator and the leading instructor of the Principles of Architecture course at the new Career Institute East.
After earning a masters in Architecture at Texas A&M University in 2004, Toffer began working for Corgan – a leading architecture and design firm based in Dallas. She was ultimately promoted to senior project manager, where she fully supervised projects from first sketches to construction.
Toffer always felt a need to share her knowledge and experience with the younger generations. She began volunteering for Dallas ISD high schools, visiting as a guest lecturer and mentoring teenagers who expressed interest in architecture.
“I saw a need in Dallas to provide opportunities to diverse populations to get into architecture, engineering and interior design,” she said. “I started recognizing really early that the only way that we’re going to make that impact is if we connect with the students early and bring them awareness that these opportunities exist for them in all of these careers.”
The teacher’s commitment to Dallas students goes beyond lecturing. Toffer and design teacher Peter Goldstein are the founders of CityLab High School. She was the main industry partner, helping put together the proposal to create the school while also starting a nonprofit that provides funding for CityLab.
Career Institute East opened this school year. The district’s three career institutes offer industry-standard training and career and technical education in eight diverse pathways: interior design, aviation, HVAC and cybersecurity, among others.
Upon completion of each pathway course, students can earn industry-based certifications and become workforce-ready for high-skill, high-paying, high-demand jobs.
Toffer talked to The Hub about how she plans to use her vast experience in architecture and design to inspire her students.
What are some lessons that you’ll impart to your students?
I feel like one of the main reasons why I’m here is so that the students have a real-world vision and understanding – not only the technical skills that they’ll need to learn – but also the social and emotional values and skills that they’ll need to develop to be able to really have an opportunity in the professional world.
I think that I’m providing them with an understanding of those different areas, but in one way, I’m a connector between the world of architecture and the practice. So I can invite my colleagues, or speak from personal experience.
I am like a window, where they can peek through and see what working in architecture looks like, but also how they can build their own path. Finding out which school they need to go to, how much school would they need in order to become an architect, what skills they would need. So having those conversations and also addressing the challenges that they’re facing.
How will you inspire your students?
I want to help them recognize that there is an absolute need for architects and interior designers to solve a lot of the needs that we have in our communities and in our neighborhoods and in our cities. So, I want them to recognize that they could be the ones helping solve all of these needs that we have. It would be remarkable if I could get them to understand that through a career in design, they could really impact their communities.
What made you want to join a classroom?
Teaching is something that I’ve always been really passionate about, and it wasn’t always evident that I felt that way.
I’ve always been passionate about sharing my experience with the younger generation. Even when working on new projects, I was always the one working and mentoring the younger staff. I didn’t realize it at the time, and it took volunteering at high schools and mentoring students to really realize that my place is here, helping build those opportunities and helping build futures.
I think I made the decision to teach in the past three years, but it wasn’t until a real opportunity opened up. I saw the position to teach at Career Institute East and I applied and really followed through. That’s what made me want to finally do it.